Friday, December 07, 2007

A Break from Pyramids

Mini Abu Simbel in Cairo
Thursday 6 December, 2007. Richard and I are in Cairo to research Roman Mystery 15, The Scribes from Alexandria. I wake up at 4.00am with a plan.

Instead of going to Heliopolis today to see an obelisk and some more tombs, we could get a taxi to the Pharaonic Village, the theme park about way of life in ancient Egypt.

At breakfast that morning, Richard gamely agrees to the plan. After some investigation I find a taxi driver called Omar – a jewel beyond price – connected with the hotel. He says the Pharaonic Village opens at 9.00am and that he will take us for 70 Egyptian pounds (£7). I agree and we set off just after 8.30 and arrive on the dot of 9.00. Half an hour later Richard and I find ourselves the only ones on a kind of flat bottomed boat with chairs. A few others – full of Egyptian schoolchildren – are towed by tug, but ours has its own motor.

The barge putts slowly around the perimeter of an island fringed by papyrus beds. There is an English commentary on a loudspeaker which gives a handy summary of Egyptian cosmology as we pass painted plaster statues of Egyptian gods and goddesses. There is even a mini Abu Simbel.

ploughing at the Pharaonic Village in Cairo

sheepish shadouf demonstrator
Then we get to the good bit: real Egyptians and animals acting out the way of life: ploughing with a wooden plough, sowing the seed and getting sheep to press down the ground, threshing by cow, winnowing, a man operating a shadouf for bringing up water, landowner paying taxes, making honey, building boats of papyrus and a fisherman beating the water. (We saw this last activity for real on our boat trip from Luxor to Aswan last May.) There are also tableaux of brickmaking, mummification, perfume-making, painting and carving, a carpenter and armourer's workshop, potters, grape-treaders, spinners and weavers. We also see a demonstration of papyrus making. The actors look a little sheepish but were mostly cheerful. I fear they may not be paid much.

guide #5, Ahmed
We disembark from the barge and are met by Ahmed, guide number 5. We are the only English-speakers so we had him all to ourselves. He is very charming and informative, though a little nervous at first. He punctuates every other sentence with the phrase 'By the way'. But then he relaxes and gives us an excellent tour of a rich man's house, a poor man's house and a temple. There is incense burning in the temple and it makes the air smoky, catching the beams of sunshine coming down past columns. Finally Ahmed takes us to see a reconstruction of King Tut's tomb. All the grave articles are fake, of course, but it is good to see how they had been left in the rooms. And it is all very accurately done. We recognize some of the items from the King Tut exhibition in London and see others later that afternoon at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

blue lotus at the Cairo Hilton
Omar had taken us to the island in his comfortable car, chatting about mothers-in-law and his four children. The taxi to our rendezvous with the others at the Nile Hilton is a ancient, battered, black and white vehicle held together with duct tape. No seat belts, naturally. Luckily the traffic is moving at a snail's pace.

'It's not far to the Nile Hilton,' I say to the taxi driver. 'Is it?' Blank look. 'The Nile Hilton,' I say slowly. 'Is it far?' More blank looks. 'Do you speak English?' I finally say. 'My English,' he replies carefully, 'is not perfect.' But he gets us there and we meet up with the rest of our group for a quick snack before the dusty treasures of the Cairo Museum.

And there, in a pool before the museum are several perfect specimens of the rare blue lotus!

[I was researching Roman Mystery 15, The Scribes from Alexandria. It is now available in paperbackKindle and as an abridged audiobook, and is perfect for primary schools studying Egypt in Key Stage 2.]

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